Congressman Gibbs' Opening Statement from Hearing on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief's Reports

June 5, 2013
Press Release

On June 5, 2013, Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Gibbs held a hearing to review the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief’s Reports, the process the Corps undertakes to develop these projects, and some of the steps the Corps is carrying out internally to accelerate the process. The following are his opening remarks from the hearing:

"The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal government’s largest water resources development and management agency. The Corps began its water resources program in the 1800’s when Congress for the first time appropriated money for improving river navigation.

"Today, the Corps of Engineers constructs projects for the purposes of navigation, flood control, beach erosion control and shoreline protection, hydroelectric power, recreation, water supply, environmental protection, restoration and enhancement, and fish and wildlife mitigation.

"The Corps of Engineers planning process considers economic development and environmental needs as it addresses water resources problems. The planning process addresses the Nation’s water resources needs in a systems context and explores a full range of alternatives in developing solutions. 

"The U.S Army Corps of Engineers is subject to all federal statutes, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, and all previous Water Resources Development Acts, Flood Control Acts, and Rivers and Harbors Acts. These laws and associated regulations and guidance provide the legal basis for the Corps of Engineers planning process.

"For instance, when carrying out a feasibility study, the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) requires the Corps of Engineers include an identification of significant environmental resources likely to be impacted by the proposed project, an assessment of the impacts, a full disclosure of likely impacts, and a consideration of a full range of alternatives, including a No Action Alternative and Action by Others alternatives.

"NEPA also requires a 30 day public review of any draft document and a 30 day public review of any final document produced by the Corps of Engineers.

"Additionally, when carrying out a feasibility study, the Clean Water Act requires an evaluation of the potential impacts of a proposed project or action and requires a letter from a state agency ensuring the proposed project or action complies with state water quality standards.

"The Army Corps of Engineers also has to formulate alternative plans to ensure all reasonable alternatives are evaluated, including plans that maximize net national economic development benefits and other plans that incorporate other federal, state, and local concerns. Mitigation of adverse impacts is to be included in each of the alternative plans reviewed in the study. The Corps of Engineers is also responsible for identifying areas of risk and uncertainty in the study, so decisions can be made with some degree of reliability on the estimated costs and benefits of each alternative plan.

"Typically, the plan recommended by the Corps of Engineers is the plan with the greatest net economic benefit consistent with protection of the Nation’s environment. However, the Corps does have the discretion to recommend another alternative if there are overriding reasons for recommending another plan, based on other federal, state, or local concerns.

"By now many of us have seen the actual size of typical studies carried out by the Corps of Engineers.  While these are complex projects that need to be reviewed by the public and other State and Federal agencies, the level of analysis required by other laws and regulations are crippling the project delivery process. 

"For example, the study for the Sabine-Neches Waterway navigation project was authorized in June 1997 and the Chief’s Report was transmitted to Congress in July 2011.  According to the Feasibility Study for the Sabine-Neches Waterway navigation project, more than 120 alternatives at 9 different depths were evaluated prior to a completed Chief’s Report. 

"We are literally studying infrastructure projects to death, but this is not solely the fault of the Corps of Engineers. 

"Congress needs to change the way the Corps of Engineers carries out its business.  It is no longer acceptable that these studies take dozens of years to complete.  Ultimately, the federal tax payer is on the hook for these studies and for the length of time it takes to carry them out, delaying the benefits these projects are ultimately supposed to provide.

"As we move forward with what will be a policy-heavy Water Resources Development Act, we will be focusing on accelerating the study and project delivery process, as well as better prioritizing these worthwhile investments that the American public has relied on for decades." -- U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH)